Oba Gbenga Sonuga retired as Director of Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture and now sits on the throne of his forebears as the current traditional ruler of Simawa, Fadesewa in Ogun State. In this interview with FLORA ONWUDIWE, he dwells on how his sojourn in the public sector prepared him for the throne and why some traditional rulers are comfortable with the stipends they get from local governments
How has been a cultural administrator helped you in your current position as a monarch?
It has been exceedingly helpful. It seems as if all my life and what God was doing was all about preparing me for this calling. That was to arm me with all sources of knowledge, not money, but knowledge with what and what to do.
Looking back now, it seems to be the most excellent preparation for being an Oba, with the traditional stool being so well respected. Being an Oba at whatever level is supposed to be the apex of a man’s success and everything that I had done in my life up to the point where I became an Oba had been part of the preparation which I am now drawing from every time that something comes up or I have to pass a comment or I have to advise.
My past life has been an excellent preparation for where I am now. You would have been used to wearing suits as an administrator. That trend cannot continue of course as a traditional ruler but how has it been? Interestingly, when I was a civil servant, I did not wear suits.
I was always wearing Agbada or I would dress casually. If we are rehearsing or doing anything as such, I never wore a suit. But you were the director of the Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture? Yes, that was the only job I was interviewed for.
As director for Arts and Culture and that was 10 years after my graduation from the University of Ibadan in 1971. It took me 10 years before I could use my certificate to look for job.
After graduating, I taught for one and half years in my alma mater, Igbobi College, Yaba. After that I went to Ibadan to the new culture studios where I studied with Demas Nwoko for 10 years.
And when I came out of there, I became the director of Arts and Culture. Essentially because I had a prerequisite qualification and I had the world of experience.
Therefore, there is no way anybody can now say, ‘Oh that is what the director of Art and Culture should always be.’ Where would they be trained, who would train them, who would have the patient to be an apprentice for 10 years after graduation? Which was more or less what I was, I got exposed intellectually, artistically, culturally.
I undertook the personnel management of the entire institution and I also edited all its magazines. People graduate today, want to get a job tomorrow and they don’t get for five years and they become absolutely useless. There is no other thing to do for them except to keep looking for that job.
What has your experience as a traditional ruler been like?
Well, my experience in a nutshell has been that, the traditional ruler in Yoruba land, which is the one I am familiar with, is an endangered species but which will never die.
If the colonial masters had been able to get rid of the traditional rulers, they would have done so. If the military in their many years of occupation had been able to get rid of them, they would have done so. So something exists, which is the real depth of culture, which says you must respect an Oba in my own part of the world.
Kabiyesi, eyin alaye luwa. Whether they know you are capable of being a leader or not, that’s given to you. Then, it is now left for you whether you are indeed a leader or a good person or not.
Of course there are good and bad Obas but the cultural tradition is that you enjoy a regime, either good or bad. You will not always enjoy every regime.
What I have discovered is that if the selection process of politicians would go through the same kind of rigours that selecting of an Oba does, then we would have better quality leadership than we do now.
Being an Oba has not disappeared from the surface of the earth but I’m talking on behalf of other traditional rulers; there is no rule in the constitution which spells out exactly what an Oba is.
They have the chiefs’ law to guide what they met on the ground but nobody has ever sat and said, ‘maybe this is what we should have as an Oba in a contemporary world.
If they are ceremonial, what ceremony and if they are about rituals, then what rituals and that can be elaborated and culturally developed so that people will relate and be satisfied that they have achieved what they want once they fulfill those criteria.
While it is known you are not in charge of governance really, what moves are you making to attract development to your community?
There is no way I can attract development in my community as a traditional ruler, because there is no forum for it, particularly with our current governor. Well, he invites some Obas to some events, he takes care of them and they go. We agitate for the small allowances that are being paid. They are paying better in Lagos; Lagos has more money.
But what I’m saying is there is no real definition of what an Oba is except urging them to help talk to people when there is a problem. “Help me tell your people to do this,” they always say but there has been no forum where there is an intellectual exchange or in which cultural development strategies are employed; they are busy using the position before they leave and so there is no room for what will happen in the future.
The present one is so tight, that all they are doing that they have forgotten what happened yesterday so quickly and people are very myopic. If we get it right, the country can stabilise a bit and you can begin to say, “Look, you Obas, as they say, either custodians of culture and traditional fathers” but the visionaries are not connecting with the missioners.
The visionaries see how they are going to be from the experience of their fore-fathers and watching what is happening now and projecting to the future while the missioners campaign and get elected when they do it, well we all benefit and when they don’t do it well, we all suffer.
So, what I have advocated in my book, An Introduction of Cultural Activism in Nigeria, is that there must be a bridging of the gap for the missioner and the visioner to have a common purpose.
And that means the common purpose is to develop Nigeria so when we come together we are heading towards the same direction, no matter who is in the bus, we are all moving to the same direction but that is not the case in Nigeria now.
But people still believe that traditional rulers have money because of the gifts and money they get from people?
There is Yoruba saying that, “Somi kale la ngbo ni ile Oba, a kin gbo gberumi” which is: “Please let me put this load down” is what you hear in the house of the king, you never hear “help lift this load on my head” but it’s not so anymore.
It is a great misconception to think that the Obas necessarily have money. Where are they going to get it from, is it from the pittance that the government allows through the local governments? So all the Obas in any local government are entitled to only five percent of what comes to the local government. So if there are ten, 20 or 40 of you in that local government, that’s what you will share.
Lagos State is different because there is money in Lagos State. If the individuals are wealthy and it is in the record generally that Nigeria is wealthy but they are not.
Many of them are poor, there are some that are stupendously rich but the gap seems to be widening every day and even Obas are included. If I didn’t have any sources of support, family, what I have done before all that, I will be living in penury.
This house was built by our family; it wasn’t built by the state government or local government. The local government has never paid any attention to this place. It is now that we have a new one, the former one, Sagamu Local Government has been split into three Local Council Developments Area (LCDAs) so it is only now that the local government can look in any way at this place.
With all the beautiful buildings and companies around, how expensive is it to buy a piece of land here?
But there are other 20 odd developers around us, they came to buy land, they award all the land and are now reselling. They are business people; they are not going to give the Oba money for free.
Since Land Use Decree says all land belongs to government so it is only the land in one’s family possession and you can even say “our governor has told us every place is free since the law says that land belongs to government so what am I going to sell at what level to be rich? Then nobody comes here to give you anything, except of their own free will. So it is a myth.
The Obas were the richest people because the land belonged to them in the past.They were the owners of the land but in 1978, Obasanjo took that away and gave it to the politicians including himself.
Obas cannot sell land that is not their own now and whatever land you think you have, it cannot be yours alone, it is for your family. People don’t just own acres of land for nothing; you must have worked on it before it is yours so Obas are not rich across board and it is a misconception that Obas are rich.
You had the opportunity of inviting then military head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari to the command performance of a play you directed titled Ori years ago. How did you pull that off with full-blown military rule in place back then?
I did not invite anybody, the military governor of Lagos State, who was my classmate; Air Commodore Gbolahan Mudasiru, was preparing to receive his Head of State in Lagos State.
Although, General Buhari lives in Lagos State but you can’t be living in barracks and you said you are living in Lagos State. So I was fortunate because I happened to be member of the committee on what to do to welcome the Nigerian Head of State. I suggested that there must be activities to show the Head of State.
To show him what was happening in his state, he was to commission roads, buildings and how would he not know who the people are and he would go back to the barracks? So, I suggested that there must be some activities to show this Head of State to make him sit back and watch people at their high level of performance.
We have been registering 250 cultural groups in Lagos State, who paid stipend and they are supposed to be involved in the development of the culture in the state but we had no ability to mobilise them for anything.
So if there was going to be Head of State visit, I suggested a cultural parade at Onikan Stadium instead of a football match, match pass for him to have an idea of the mixture of cultures that existed in Lagos. Of course, we had a play which we had been thinking of, that is an elaborate parable about Nigeria.
That Nigeria has a good head but great care must be taken about the leadership. Because in the Yoruba language, ori means head and it also means destiny or luck but if you don’t take care of that good head, it will become ori buruku (cursed head) and that is a very bad word in Yoruba language and that was the basis of that play.
But it was because we had been debating which was the best way to get across to leaders of the country if we had the opportunity and the opportunity came and we took it to show the play.
We satisfied the governor who was hosting and we satisfied the Head of State who enjoyed it. But there was an issue; a great part of Ori was in Yoruba. The Head of State did not speak Yoruba and there was a particular line: “Lagbaja , iwo lodaba yi sa, Oloun majeko pa aba sha” and Abacha was a member of the Military Ruling Council then and he was in attendance with Buhari.
The governor said that since they would not understand what was being said that it might be simply be misconstrued, we had to remove that line. All what the woman was saying is the line is: “You are misbehaving. may God not lead you into the pit.”
The essence of the play was to tell a story in the most interesting way but with a strong message behind it. “Abasha” obviously will not take care of the head and “Orirere” becomes “Ori buruku”.
Thank God we got out of it but don’t let us get into another one. I am sure even 35 years later; the Head of State will now even relate more with the play than he did at that time.
But this was an opportunity for the artistes to talk to visioners, also talk to missioners. Maybe, if it has lasted long enough for us to keep pumping that idea because it was a period of war Against Indiscipline (WAI).
It was the first attempt at enforcing discipline. We must fight corruption whether Buhari is there or not, either we like it or not. Like they have said, it will destroy us which it almost did.
The governor of Lagos state merged Tourism, Art and Culture. As a culture advocate, which would you say come first?
My statement was that you don’t put the cart before the horse, meaning if the horse is what is pulling the cart and going at speed also being controlled by somebody on the range, you do not put in front of the cart.
So, tourism does not develop automatically from nowhere, it develops based on your culture. If anything is worth seeing in your country, it’s your culture. Your cultural asset, that is what you want to sell.
Therefore, what comes first is to develop those assets so in most ministries even at the federal, I discovered that they used to write Ministry of Tourism and Culture. I always say no, they should put culture first. Put tourism, National Orientation, Information, you can subsume them and put them under Ministry of Culture.
How did you meet your wife?
Obviously, we met because we are both artistes, and we started by working together. Shortly after that, we had gone to America and came back with Ori and I was looking for someone who is an expert costumier and make-up person, a professional one for subsequent productions.
A friend of hers introduced her to me. And I remembered when we were in secondary school and I remembered her being an athlete in the school and we grew up in the same area without knowing each other.
We worked for two years together and I found her absolutely reliable. She could work as long as any man can work. It was because my first marriage broke and we then came together. And ever since, I found her great support in spirit.
People believe that traditional rulers keep a harem of women, why is your own different?
My own is not different, if I am keeping a harem of women, how would you know? Being an Oba has nothing to do with relationship. I have many friends, both male and female. If it is the sexual part of it, that, of course, as you grow up becomes less important to you. Yes, an Oba has the privileged of having many wives, then whether you do it or not it depends on the temperament of individual.
As a Christian, how do you combine your faith with rituals?
My concept of religion is that I should get weaker physically, automatically people tend to be more spiritually alert because that is what is going to help you. As you get older, your flesh becomes weak and you need to strengthen yourself spiritually, that is the essence of religious belief. I was brought up a Christian so I won’t tell you I am not a Christian.
I don’t go to church as such. My wife is a Muslim and she goes to mosque regularly and prays five times a day. At the same time when my group comes around and say we are doing something to celebrate Ogun, I will not close my door and run away, I must be part of it. Give them whatever it is that they expect from the Oba and grease them and bless them.
You cannot be a rigid and dogmatic Christian or Muslim; otherwise you shouldn’t have taken up of being an Oba. Because that is what the tradition has always been, the Oba must be open. So if I have not been too much of a Christian and too much of a pagan.
FESTUS KEYAMO: My poor parents flew like king, queen to witness my SAN award
Social commentator, human rights activist and famous lawyer, Festus Keyamo (SAN), in this no-holds-barred interview with LANRE ODUKOYA spoke about the journey to becoming a SAN, why he stuck to the guns against his kinsman, former President Goodluck Jonathan, to birth a new government, and virtues that molded him into greatness.
The awarding of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) seemed to arrive not at a time you expected and we noticed you went to the UK to become a Fellow of International Arbitration while waiting to be pronounced a SAN. Were you so dampened that you had to seek more honour abroad?
Well, I’d say yes and no. At a time I decided go to the UK to get my fellowship, I’d always wanted to do it. So, I wanted to be a Fellow of International Arbitration and it’s very much related to law and it gives you more international scope.
On a lighter note, that means when practice is dull here in Nigeria, I can go elsewhere and make a few bucks to buy garri for my family. I decided long ago that I was going to be a Fellow of International Arbitration in the UK, there’s also a Nigerian version of it but I decided that I wanted mine in the UK. But at a point when my SAN(ship) was a bit delayed, I saw it as an opportunity to make progress in that area.
At some point in life, you just want to make progress; you don’t want to be where you are. And the practice was at a point getting too monotonous and I wanted to just add a few feathers to my cap.
So, that was the decision I took at that time. Maybe the fact that they delayed the SAN(ship) made me quickly go and do it. But I’d have done it eventually whether I become a SAN early or not. Luckily enough, both of them came almost a year apart and at the end of the day it was double blessings for me.
Did you feel any sense of disappointment when you were finally pronounced a SAN given that you’d waited for it so long?
Did you receive it with the same enthusiasm you would have shown it if it had come six or five years earlier? I just took it as God’s appointed time. You won’t believe me, I wasn’t sad, too happy or frustrated. I just told myself this is God’s appointed time and I took it in my stride.
At a point you may want to reflect and say, look, why didn’t it come on time? But then you’d look at other situations where there are people who are also extremely capable and qualified to get it but have still not got it.
So, it’s a matter of counting one’s blessings. Don’t be angry, don’t be sad, don’t be too happy, just accept it that it’s God’s appointed time and just move on with it. Accept it that you would not be the first, you would not be the last and accept it that God just said this is your year and take it.
Did the delay cost you anything valuable?
I don’t think it cost me anything but in any case you would never know what it would have brought you whether it was blessing in disguise or whether it was a drawback because we’re not clairvoyant and we’re not also God. If I’d gotten it earlier, would I have got into trouble? If I’d got it earlier, would I have been bigger than I am? You would never know. Look, if you know how my mind works, you won’t even try to delve into this area of whether I’m happy or I feel frustrated. I am somebody who counts his blessings.
The first blessing I count is that I’m alive. Today, I reflect back and know of my schoolmates who died in primary school, I know those who died in secondary school, I know a classmate of mine who died a week before we wrote our final examination in UNILAG. I remember him vividly and I also remember my friends who we graduated together; some have made it big in various areas and others have come short in certain areas- it’s like mixed fate for all of us because some of them have passed on too since we graduated.
So, when you reflect on all of this, you’d just say, ‘what right do I have to complain?’ Everyone’s got his own appointed time and just accept it that there wouldn’t have been anything different if it comes before or after.
There’s no parameter to employ to calculate what you should have done because God didn’t just have you in that schedule. He may not have you in His schedule in 2014, 2015, 2016 but your name appears in God’s schedule in 2017.
It’s just that. During the reign of former President Goodluck Jonathan, your name was all over the newspapers for things you felt the government was not doing right, but less if not nothing has been heard from you yet about where the current government is erring. So many would think is it because of the board appointment you got with the
NDIC or because you’re a lawyer with the EFCC?
I have no such of engagement with the government of the day. No kind of engagement at all. Even the names that were announced recently came to me as a surprise. I sat in my house, practicing my law, I didn’t lobby for anything and I don’t have any sense of entitlement at all. So, even as I speak with you, they just announced it we’ve not got letters and nothing has taken off. So, I’m just who I am.
Let me also be a bit presumptuous, I’m very comfortable because that’s the natural response to this kind of question. I’ve reached the height of my profession and I don’t need patronage from the government to survive.
What I have in my profession is pension for life. I said pension for life because it guarantees that I practice and earn money till the day I drop dead. That is what I have in my profession. It’s not an appointment that I must retire from at 65 or 75.
The older you get the better it is for you especially if you’re a very active and practicing lawyer, let alone when you’re a senior advocate. So, really, I will be most stupid to be sycophantic to anybody. Whatever I do is for the best of my country propelled by my sense of history, my sense of balance, what we have and what we may get if we turn the other way and perhaps, maybe because of some insiders knowledge as to what’s going on in this country.
This is because most of the things you see on social media are completely different from the realities on the ground and I’m sure you know that even as a journalist. You know the news behind the news. Unfortunately, the masses of our country; most of the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram activists don’t know the news behind the news.
They see things from the surface and comment. Some of us are c l o s e to you people and we have the privilege to know the news behind the news most times. Having said that, it will be wrong for anyone to think that because I prosecute for the EFCC, I refuse to comment on the wrongs of this government. How long do you think I’ve been prosecuting for the EFCC? Of course you know it’s been long.
It was in the height of my prosecution for the EFCC under former President Jonathan that I opposed him. So, if you want to look for somebody with courage, that was the height of courage. When I knew he could win again? For me it wasn’t for the perks of my practice, as far as I’m concerned I’m just assisting that body because I would earn more money if I don’t prosecute for the EFCC. That’s because I would defend those accused of corruption and I would have more money to pay lawyers.
At times with apologies, I say this without intent to offend the antigraft agency as hard working as they areat times we go on for four years without receiving one kobo from them. We merely do these things out of passion.
The stipend they give to encourage us once in a while is just to cover our transport and it’s been a long time now they did that. I don’t have to reveal how many years ago I received a single bank alert from the commission.
It’s passion that drives us. I was discussing with one of the key prosecutors yesterday and he mentioned the same thing, a senior advocate like me. Bringing our status, experience and everything to help a vital part of government which is the anti-corruption crusade is something we should be commended for.
And so, don’t forget too that Jonathan is my kinsman from the South-south, he was pitched against a northerner who I had absolutely no relationship with, Gen. Buhari, at that time. Everybody around Jonathan is my friend or classmate, so I could easily have walked into that government and picked anything I wanted.
Let me even mention names to you; Gov. Dickson of Bayelsa State is my classmate, he was one of t h e closest to Jonathan. Dickson and I are very close, he’s even my ‘call-mate’. One who is not even close to Jonathan, Dogara, the speaker was also my classmate and ‘call-mate’, of course, you know Asari Dokubo is my brother and my friend. I brought him out of prison and you know how close he was to Jonathan. You know Kingsley Kuku and how close he was to Jonathan.
These are all my childhood friends, peers, brothers from the Southsouth who I have all the affiliation to. Everybody around Jonathan was my people. Even before Oronto Douglas passed on, we came from the same Human Rights circle. I knew nobody around Gen. Buhari, not one person.
But I did what was the best for my country because I saw what was going. I told myself and my conscience that this was wrong. I didn’t want the Dasuki money; I knew that money was going around then for people to campaign for them. In Buhari’s case we were spending our own money.
Do you sell your conscience to someone who is not giving you money or someone who gives you money? For 16 years, you saw how we complained about the PDP and their ways- many of us were loud about it. Then immediately after we were able to pull off that revolution in 2015, then some of us who were leaders of that cause will turn around and in two years and switch sides to the same people we fought? No way! What we can do is constructive criticism which we have done and not to call for change from what we established. It’s too early to call for change. I’m not ashamed and I’m confident to say that we cannot in two and half years call for the change of what we fought for many years to achieve.
From your constituency, the justice system, the appointment of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has been received with much criticism and he has not scored well from his outings to earn people’s confidence.
How does this make you feel? There are people in the present team who have done well and there are those who haven’t done well. That doesn’t generally bring down the entire government. It means that you need to change some members of your team like some parts of your vehicle. Even though the vehicle is moving, there is perhaps a reason for change of some parts in order for the vehicle to perform better.
Now, while this may be the perception of some people, some people might argue that he has done well too. I’ve had cause to criticise him openly too especially on the ‘Mainagate’. He’s my close friend and my brother but when it comes to the governance of this country some of us must speak out. And I spoke out and said, look, in certain areas you got it wrong my brother. You shouldn’t have been anxious enough to recall Maina.
There are other areas he might have done well too, people have where they misstep. We’ve heard of AGFs who were involved in other ‘gates’. Some of them are on the run now, they’ve declared them wanted.
You have fought many battles and come out either unscathed or with not so known scars. Which would you consider the most difficult?
It may not even be the ones that attract public attention and you won’t believe it. The ones that attract public attention are even the simplest. Some of the cases of very private persons that gave us sleepless nights and we fight those battles so much and pull through, we really heave a big sigh of relief here in this office. Because of clients’ confidentiality I may not go through the details of some of these cases.
Not so much has changed in your look in years despite the workload and mental stress, what’s the secret of your good look?
It’s hunger. Try and be hungry and you won’t grow pot-belly. On a serious note, it’s discipline. I rest a lot. I don’t do night parties, I don’t club. Those have never been my lifestyle. I was brought up as a very disciplined young man. I was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness preaching from house to house and we had to go to bed early.
I was raised in a very disciplined environment and that discipline is still in me till now. Even in my late 40s, if I’m outside and it gets too late, I’d rush back home to my bed without anyone flogging me to do it. When I left my father’s house and went to the university, it was what propelled me. I sleep well, nothing disturbs my mind. Let the world be shouting Keyamo, I would just switch off my light and off I go in my sleep.
You’ve shared inspiring stories of your rise from bottom to the top. What presently excites you after you’ve conquered the war against poverty?
When I see young men today who want their apparels to make them, they want to shine in what they wear and the kind of cars they drive at the beginning of their lives, I just pity them. It’s a wrong way to start life, build your person, your character, passion for what you like first and every other thing will fall in place. Don’t put the cart before the horse- sadly, this is what we find happening around today. I didn’t drive a car six years after I was called to the bar.
I drove my old Mercedes Benz car which they called ‘Smoking Joe’ about seven years after. I bought it third hand. That was part of the setting with which I started life. My father and my mother had never attended any of my ceremonies in my life until my conferment as SAN when I had to fly them like a king and queen to Abuja to attend.
They didn’t attend my matriculation because they weren’t buoyant enough to come, they were not buoyant enough to attend my convocation and they couldn’t attend my call to bar ceremony because there was no money. I’m proud to say all this now because at the end of the day, the story is sweet. I don’t look back with regret.
My conferment was the first event they attended- guess what, that is even the sweetest one for them to attend. Of what benefit would it have been for them to attend my matriculation and I don’t graduate? Of what benefit will it be for them to attend my matriculation and spend so much money and I can’t be called to the bar?
Of what benefit would it have been for them to attend my call to bar and make so much noise and cook all kinds of rice and I make nothing out of my career? No benefits. The real icing on the cake was what they came for and God designed it that way. That was why I flew them like king and queen and I was proud to do that.
VECTOR THA VIPER: MI wrong to publicly criticise nigerian rappers
Olanrewaju Ogunmefun known by the showbiz moniker, Vector tha Viper, is a Nigerian hip hop act with three successful albums, State of Surprise, The Second Coming and Lafiaji. Not many are aware that he was the voice behind the Sprite commercial that has aired on most radio stations across Nigeria since 2009. The versatile rapper spoke with LANRE ODUKOYA.
Why do you sing more recently instead of rapping?
While I was growing up, the experience I had was helpful because I didn’t grow up listening to rap music alone. I was a proper choir boy. And at a point, I thought it was time I exhibited that other part of me. When I wanted to make tribute music for the people and place I grew up, I knew I needed to do what they would understand and relate to better. The truth is that most people living in Lafiaji, Lagos Island, are more interested in highlife, fuji and juju music. So, it was only right for me to make music they would understand since the album was dedicated to them.
But certain people said you left rap music because it wasn’t lucrative for you…
I need to be honest with you here. I have responsibilities to cater for; so, if I want to get money from someone, I may have to do what the person likes. As an intelligent musician, if you need to adjust your music to reach out to the target audience at a point, I don’t think anyone will blame you for doing so. But I still don’t put out materials that are short of quality or depth.
All I did with my last album was to infuse what people were already used to with my own style. So, if you have listened well to the songs on the album, the messages were still original to me and represented who I am. If I were making music for the Lafaiji people, I couldn’t have given them the hip-hop you hear on the streets of New York. I must give them things they can relate to.
So, I didn’t try to abandon who I am by doing the ‘Lafiaji’ album; I just wanted to relate to people who stood by me all through my trying times.
What do you still wish to achieve in music?
People are yet to see my best because I improve every day. I just left the gym now. When you see me next year, you will see a new look.
Though I am known as a rapper, I believe I am actually a better singer than a lot of singers in Nigeria. I was part of the Celestial Church of Christ choir for years and I went through all the rudiments.
Don’t you think you deserve more credit than you get in showbiz?
The fact that you think I deserve more credit is satisfactory for me and I am excited about that. People hardly tell artistes the truth; they tell them what they want to hear. When the reality hits these artistes and they know they’ve been telling them lies, it may be too late. Whatever God has given me, I am content with it. At least, I am certain I don’t need to introduce myself before people know me.
Why did you stop rapping like Jay-Z?
I didn’t stop sounding like him. People need to understand that I was very young when I started out. At a time, that was the highest pitch my voice could attain. I couldn’t sing in a certain way because I was very young. If you remember well, everyone rapping when I came into the industry was older than me. For you to hear me clearly, I had to rap in high pitch. But as I grew older, my voice became mature.
I didn’t intentionally try to sound like Jay-Z like many people thought. But I cannot blame people for seeing things that way.
My next album, TESLIM, will be a huge revelation. Teslim is my father’s name and I plan to drop it next year. For me, TESLIM means The Energy Still Leaves In Me. I will release a lot of energy on the album.
How do you develop your songs?
I get my inspiration from everything I experience. Speaking to you is an inspiration to me. I can make songs from anything; I can turn anything into creativity. If we were drinking, I could be inspired from the moment.
Do you think M.I was referring to you in You Rappers Should Fix Your Lives?
When I reacted to the song, I was yet to listen to it, but I heard he had released a song that didn’t project Nigerian rappers well. Our parents dealt with us a lot while growing up, but there was no time they went to the public and said we were stupid children. He didn’t have to say it publicly that South African rappers were ‘killing’ Nigerian rappers. I have never said this before, but we shouldn’t wash our dirty linen in public. It is fine to discipline people at home and I support that. If your children mess up, you can discipline them.
When Jay-Z released the Death of Auto-Tune, he addressed everyone, saying they should all go back to rap music. He didn’t say a group of rappers was better than one group. I didn’t like the fact that he called out Nigerian rappers openly and was comparing us with SA rappers.
Why have you not collaborated with M.I on a song?
We tried to work together on two different occasions in the past, but it just didn’t happen. There was a time when he sent me a beat to work on and the other time I was supposed to feature him on the remix of my song, King Kong. Classiq later took his verse and did very well. We can still do something together later in the future. It is music; it is nothing serious.
What was the experience growing up in the barracks and as a policeman’s son?
So far, my late father remains the most disciplined person I have ever met. He had punched me before. Despite being a no-nonsense man, he was surprisingly quiet. I still cannot explain why they named him the king of boys in my area. You would hardly see him in talking in public.
I had fun growing up, but living in the barracks is totally different from the regular street. In the barracks, you must be disciplined to survive. We like peace, but we don’t run away from war when it comes. I don’t think there is a perfect place in Lagos, but while I was growing up you would hardly see us fighting in a dirty, way killing each other. There were rules and people kept to them.
Didn’t you nurse the fear that your police father could be killed on duty?
It was not easy. Yes, we were aware that our father could go to work in the morning and it would be the last we heard of him. But there was little we could do than being hopeful that he would not clash with armed robbers that had military backgrounds. We have some armed robbers who are well trained. If your father meets people like that, it may be his end. For us living in the barracks, it was even better for our father to come back home with injuries than dying on duty.
Did you get to express your fear to him?
There was no time to tell him that. In the first place, how do you want to talk to a man who just came back from a dangerous assignment? All my mother did then was to pray. My father’s men would send in messages, explaining the total danger of a situation and he would just reply with ‘I am on my way.’ My mother would remind him that he was not a superman, but it didn’t stop him from doing his work. Ask about Tubosun Teslim Ogunmefun from anyone who knew him when he was alive, I am certain they would say he was a good policeman.
When a celebrity friend was apprehended by the police after a robbery attack at Ajah, Lagos, it was my father that came to the rescue. He called and informed them that if he was detained and anything bad happened to him, God would not forgive them and he would make sure they didn’t go unpunished. They quickly released him; that was the kind of police he was.
Did you ever think of becoming a policeman at some point?
Being in the police force has never been my dream, but I have always thought of how to make things better for them. Unlike me, my elder brother was interested in joining the police force. When we were younger, he would challenge police officers on the road for wearing wrong uniforms or misbehaving. We got into mess many times and there was no time my father found this funny. He would come bail us whenever we were detained. My father didn’t like us disrespecting policemen and always told us that it was not in our position to correct them until we became one someday.
I saw many good things he did before he passed on this year. He was buried three-month ago. He didn’t take missing church services calmly. You can ask anyone who worked directly with my father. Before they do anything on Sundays, they must attend church together.
How do you feel when you sight a policeman collecting bribe?
Since I once lived in the barrack, I know what they go through. It takes a lot to swear an oath to lay your life down for your people; so, I believe they should be well appreciated. Of course, to whom much is given, much is required. Since you are expecting much from them, do you give them a lot?
I do not say what they are doing is right, but the government needs to do the right thing as well. For instance, look at the Libya slave trade issue. Those Nigerians left home because life was hard for them. We thank God they are bringing them back now. But what do we plan to do to ensure they don’t run from home again? This is where I stand.
Policemen live like rats. Have you ever visited any police barracks before? We shouldn’t forget that these people protect us.
Orezi aims higher, unveils Gehn Gehn Music
Orezi is set to break new grounds this year and he has made that clear with the unveiling of his company, Gehn Gehn Music, which he has said is an all-around entertainment company aimed at changing the business of music in Nigeria.
Orezi, whose pace and consistency in the Nigerian music scene have sustained his relevance and growing net worth, said he would be using his company as a platform to create better opportunities for up and coming music talents in Nigeria.
“This company is for me and every upcoming artiste out there, Gehn Gehn Music will be signing artistes in the nearest future,” Orezi, who has carved a niche for himself with a successful music career of almost a decade, said. But unlike most who only reserve harsh words for former labels and associates, Orezi appreciates the opportunity he got from his former record label, saying: “Thanks to Sprisal Entertainment and Culbeed Music which helped in shaping me over the years to who I am today.”
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